Nancy Drew

Nancy Drew


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Nancy Drew is a girl detective, part of the same tradition as the Hardy Boys, an amateur adolescent sleuth of an age that was gentle. America has changed a lot in the last 70-odd years, and updating Nancy without losing its essential charms is a difficult challenge, but one the film meets confidently. Sadly, in trying to make Nancy Drew new, it loses much of the originality it might have enjoyed.

Nancy's adventure starts in River Heights, a strange little place somewhere among the "flyover states" which has a District Attorney, a sizeable church and a Chief of Police, all of whom owe a lot to Nancy and her "sleuthing". Despite her preparedness (up to and including abseiling gear) her father Carson is anxious for her to give up such pursuits, a promise Nancy grudgingly accepts. Tate Donovan does good work, though his role here is more adjunct to plot than character itself - his new job necessitates a move, and though Nancy has ostensibly given up the detective malarkey, the house she has picked has a mystery attached.

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As with most such reimaginings, Nancy Drew moves its heroine from familiar environs into a new place. It's a common manoeuvre, awkward chronological questions subsumed into a bit of geographical substitution. Here, the new place is Los Angeles, doubtless part of Hollywood's love affair with itself. The central mystery involves a disappeared actress, and with cameos from Bruce Willis (as himself) and it's pretty clear that writers Andrew Fleming and Tiffany Paulsen were pleased with themselves. It's Paulsen's debut feature, but Fleming's no stranger to high schools and their inhabitants, bearing some responsibility for Nixon vs. teenagers comedy Dick and the witchy witterings of The Craft.

It's not a bad decision, giving scope to define Nancy's character in opposition to more conventional depictions of teenage life.

Here they are provided by Amy Bruckner and Kay Panabaker as archetypal valley creatures Bess and George, and Josh Flitter as Corky, a wise-cracking comedy sidekick. In contrast to the down-home wholesomeness of Max Thierot (soon to be seen in Jumper) as Nancy's back home boy and fumbling love interest Ned Nickerson.

There's the usual integrating in a new school stuff, including questions about Nancy's native anachronisms - even with her housekeeper's cakes in her "sleuthing kit" she's a member of the iPod generation.

Emma Roberts is well able to move between the various tones demanded of her, and the dueling duality of dutiful daughter and dashing detective is well portrayed. She fits well in Nancy's shoes, and winsome as she is here one suspects better work will come from her in future.

The soundtrack's a gentle mix of cover versions, including a nice version of Blue Monday that recalls the work of Nouvelle Vague. Katie Melua, Liz Phair, the Donnas and Corinne Bailey Rae all turn up as well. One can scarcely move for female singer-songwriters who know what it is to be misunderstood as a young woman.

The biggest problem with Nancy Drew is, ultimately, that very little new happens in it. The mystery's got some darker touches than might be expected, the process of updating Nancy from the Thirties to the new millennium is well handled, but there's little originality, little sparkle. The trappings of Nancy Drew, the sky blue roadster, the sleuthing kit, even the indeterminate nature of River Heights and Nancy herself have been assumed by a relatively generic adventure movie for girls. It's sad the film didn't have the bravery to be a period piece - the admittedly limited presence of guns and explosions sits uneasily, but more so their absence in a crime story in modern California. This is an update by the numbers, and while it's no Mee-Shee the Water Giant it's always annoying to see a film aimed at children cleave so closely to stereotype.

Nancy Drew is much loved by many, almost certainly less so here than in the States, but that makes the weakness of this adaptation all the more disappointing. In updating the character for the modern age it's pretty clear those involved didn't have much of a clue, so followed procedure as best they could. That all involved did a good job doesn't, sadly, bring a satisfactory conclusion, and so it seems that, as yet, the mystery of adapting Nancy Drew remains unsolved.

Reviewed on: 17 Oct 2007
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Nancy Drew packshot
Upon moving to LA, a teenage girl uncovers clues to the mysterious disappearance of a Hollywood star.
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Director: Andrew Fleming

Writer: Andrew Fleming, Tiffany Paulsen

Starring: Emma Roberts, Josh Flitter, Max Thieriot, Rachael Leigh Cook, Tate Donovan, Barry Bostwick, Laura Harring

Year: 2007

Runtime: 99 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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